From the Department of Things We Can’t Leave Well Enough Alone.
I was sitting up reading late one evening, at the end of what I may truly call in hindsight the last ordinary day of my existence, when my man Banks came padding into the room.
“Excuse me, sir. A gentleman to see you.”
At that moment the clock beside me struck eleven—the last hour I would ever hear it strike.
“Who would be calling at this hour?” I asked. “Well, show him in.”
But that proved unnecessary, as the gentleman in question appeared in the doorway, pushing his way past Banks, who shrugged and padded off into the pantry. It was my old friend and former colleague Norbert Weyland—the square, resolute jaw and piercing blue eyes were unmistakable.
“Good old Peevish!” he greeted me cheerfully, turning out the overhead light. “Didn’t expect me at this hour, did you?” He yanked the desk lamp out of its socket. “In fact, didn’t expect me back from Tierra del Fuego at all, I’ll wager. How are you, old boy?” He stepped into the bathroom for a moment and flushed the night light down the toilet. “You look fit and happy, or at least you did when I could see you. Now, bolt all your doors, lock your windows, nail the cat flap shut, push heavy furniture in front of the vents, stop all your drains, stack telephone books on the toilet lid, and put child safety covers on all your electrical outlets. There. Expeditiously done, old boy, especially in the dark. Now write a note to whom it may concern saying that you’ve moved to Kansas City and taken a job selling beets from a cart with no fixed address. Splendid. I always could rely on you to take directions. And now, I expect you’re wondering what all this is about.”
“A little,” I admitted.
In the dim illumination from the streetlights outside, I could see his silhouette: he was peering intently through the window. “Fact is, I’ve come here on the trail of an archfiend.”
“An archfiend. It’s a bit like an archbishop, but fiendier. Anyway, that’s why I came back from Tierra del Fuego, by way of Sao Paolo, Chittagong, Lagos, Tristan da Cunha, and Monroeville, following his fiendish trail. But now it looks as though the wily devil is on my trail instead. If we’re lucky, I gave him the slip on my way here. If we’re not—well…”
“But who is this fiend? It’s not like you to be rattled like this.”
“He has many names,” Weyland said softly. “Irving Spatz, for one. Alias Manuel Ormsby, alias Rudolphus Cramm, alias Jimmy Smatter the Dancing Barber of the Boulevard of the Allies, alias President James Buchanan, alias Sir George Pickerel-Farmington, alias Blanche ‘Boom Boom’ Helmholtz, alias Weng Fao of the Sûreté, alias the Great Blando; but he is known to his legions of fanatical followers as Kun, the devil king.”
“Why would they follow someone they think of as the devil?”
“He gives them free beer. Do you see the fiendishly intricate brilliance of the man’s mind?”
He turned to face me, or at least it sounded as though he was facing me now. “Peevish, old man, you need to know the facts. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say the future of our race depends on my success.”
“What race is that?” I asked, rather stupidly I fear.
“The African, North and South American, Asian, Australian, European, and Oceanian race. In other words, the non-Andorran race.”
“Well, that’s a strange way of putting it.”
“Not if you know Kun, the devil king. He has sworn destruction or slavery to all non-Andorrans. In his mind, he is the messiah of the Andorran race, a race peculiarly formed of two of the great conquering peoples of the world, and a race as it were distilled and epitomized in himself. His keen Andorran brain combines all the Spanish passion and Jesuitical intellectual precision with all the French dexterity with sauces. He knows that the eighty-five thousand restless Andorrans only await their leader, and he knows that they will be invincible with him at their head.”
“But what kind of name is Kun for a man from Andorra? It doesn’t sound Catalan, or French or Spanish for that matter.”
“We think it’s an acronym.”
“An acronym? But an acronym for what?”
“Ah, Peevish, old boy, if we knew that!”
“And you say this Kun means to enslave us all?” I still found it difficult to believe that such evil could exist in the world.
“Yes, and I have good reason to believe I know where he intends to start. And that’s why I have to warn the archbishop.”
“The archbishop. He’s like an archfiend, but on our side. And that’s where you come in, Peevish, old man. We’ll be needing your car. That, in fact, is why I came to you. No one else drives a car as blandly inconspicuous as yours. It is positively the only vehicle in which we have any chance of reaching our destination.”
“I’ll have Banks bring it round,” I told Weyland; and I immediately rang for Banks.
When I received no reply after half a minute, I rang again. There was still no reply.
I called out. “Banks! Banks, stop lallygagging about and get the car ready!”
Suddenly I felt a hand grip my arm. “Peevish!” Weyland whispered. “Where did you leave Banks?”
“Last time I saw, he was headed for the pantry.”
“Where is the pantry?”
“It’s just back there, through the library and the music room, down the hall past the conservatory and through the dining room. You can’t miss it. It’s a small apartment, after all.”
“Lead the way. I fear the worst.”
I led him through the darkened apartment until at last we reached the pantry, which I announced by saying, “This is the pantry.”
“Put on the light,” he said.
The scene of horror that met my eyes was so unexpected that at first I could not parse it at all. Banks was there on the floor; or, rather, his legs were there. The rest of him was completely obscured by a gigantic anvil that had evidently been dropped on him from the ceiling. Some of the hoisting tackle was still scattered about the pantry.
“The fiend!” Weyland whispered, with a peculiar combination of frustration and disgust. “I should have known! He got Sir Gregory Pramwheeler the same way.”
“But how did he get an anvil into my apartment? And how did he hoist it and drop it without our hearing it?”
“You see now what we’re up against,” Weyland replied grimly.
This story will be continued only if there is sufficient interest. By “interest,” of course, Dr. Boli means his own, not yours.